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29 Aug 16

Bosnian Schools: An Absurdist Social Experiment

Emela Burdzovic

I am scared - my daughter is about to start school in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country in which some textbooks teach that wolves live in trees.

"In a normal world, school is a synonym for a system." Photo: Paul Hamilton/Flickr

There are four more days left until my daughter starts first grade at school; a very important new beginning for all of us.

She is almost six and with her 19 kilos, those big blue eyes and shiny blonde hair, she looks too young to wade into this educational mess that we have here. Are they going to break her?

The first day of school is supposed to be emotional for both parents and kids, but is it supposed to be so frightening? 

In a normal world, school is a synonym for a system, for a place where educated people, accordingly to a serious state strategy, teach you, lead you, show you skills, and do everything they can to make you a good person. 

Although some might expect that the Bosnian authorities, after all the pain we went through (and are still going through), would realise how important education is in our healing process, but it is not the case. 

That’s either a mess or someone’s strategy to create a whole new generation divided between two extremes, war criminals and victims.

While next-door Croatia stands up to protest about a new curriculum, while the world talks about marvellous systems in Finland or Japan, while the awareness of the importance of education increases, in the Sarajevo Canton, the authorities have made a big, strategic decision to play the national anthem in schools and to learn more about genocide and war.  

Or more precisely, to have children listen to the anthem, because they can’t sing it because we cannot agree about its words so it still doesn’t have any.

Why is this anthem so crucial? For the same reason religion in schools was, 15 years ago - kids need to know where they belong and who they are, they have to embrace the truth and love their country.

But whose truth, I wonder? Which country are the kids supposed to love? The same one that the authorities do not love enough to agree on a common curriculum?  The country that they do not love enough to care about a fourth-grade book in which the author says VHS is the future of technology?

In the Sarajevo Canton, each school chooses different books by its own internal rules, all by different publishers, without any overall policy. A couple of years ago, fifth-graders’ textbooks said the ‘truth’ was that wolves live in trees. Now they’ve change their minds, wolves could live forests.

The only common truth that all Bosnian citizens share is that we have no money to buy these expensive textbooks with their who-knows-what content; that a parent of two has a serious problem to provide all their kid needs for school no matter whether they live in Zenica, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Mostar or Bijeljina.

The books’ content might be different from school to school, but all of it is too expensive for our budget and for our future. With all due respect, the prayers they teach us in schools just don’t help.

My kid is just an experiment to them. They do not need to play an anthem to make her love this country. Play some strategy, play some economy, play some industry, play some chances, play some jobs, play some opportunities, and we will sing it from the bottom of our hearts.

I personally advise them to read this year’s fourth-grade book, ‘Moja Okolina’ (‘My Environment’), in which the author Samira Lugavic explains how a canton develops: “Cantons’ development depends on the number of citizens and the number of factories, it depends on industry and economic development and the number of people in it who are employed.”

Otherwise I’ll be happy to teach my daughter another country’s anthem.

Talk about it!

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